"Then in that case, you certainly wouldn't mind that Ms. Neal remains at my side. To aid me if I wish to inspect the lot?"
"As you wish." Ergenschein's smile wore into a brief frown. He made a vague dismissive wave to the guard. "But she must stay with you at all times. And as your guest, she is your responsibility."
Fiona was released. As Gray led her toward the back, he noted the guard flanked them along the edge of the room. It seemed they had gained their own personal bodyguard.
Gray herded Fiona into the last row. A chime sounded, announcing that the auction would commence in another minute. Seats began to fill, mostly near the front. Gray and Fiona had the back row to themselves.
"What are you doing here?" he whispered.
"Getting back my Bible," she said with thick disdain. "Or at least trying to."
She slumped back in her seat, arms crossed over her leather purse.
Off to the front, Ergenschein took the podium and made some formal introductions. The proceedings would be in English. It was the most common language among the auction's international clientele. Ergenschein elaborated on the rules of bidding, the house's premium and fees, even proper etiquette. The most important rule was that you were only allowed to bid up to ten times the amount placed and secured on deposit.
Gray ignored most of it, continuing with Fiona, earning a few disgruntled glances from those in the row ahead.
"You came back for the Bible? Why?"
The girl only tightened her arms.
She turned to him, hard and angry. "Because it was Mutti's!" Tears glistened. "They killed her over it. I won't let them have it."
She waved an arm. "Whoever sodding murdered her. I'm going to get it and burn it."
Gray sighed and leaned back. Fiona wanted whatever revenge she could get. She wanted to hurt them. Gray didn't blame her…but her reckless actions were only likely to get her killed, too.
"The Bible's ours. I should be able to take it back." Her voice cracked. She shook her head and swiped at her nose.
Gray put an arm around her.
She winced but didn't pull away.
In front, the auction began. Paddles rose and fell. Items came and went. The best would be held until last. Gray noted who bought what. He especially noted who were the final bidders for the items logged into his notebook, the three items of special interest: Mendel's genetics papers, Planck's physics, and de Vries's diary on mutations.
They all went to the pair of silent-movie stars.
Their identities remained unknown. Gray heard whispers among his fellow participants. No one knew who they were. Only their ever-rising paddle number.
Gray leaned to Fiona. "Do you recognize those buyers? Have you ever seen them before in your shop?"
Fiona straightened in her seat, stared for a full minute, then slunk down. "No."
"How about anyone else?"
"Fiona, are you sure?"
"Yes," she snapped. "I'm bloody goddamn sure!"
This earned more exasperated glances in their direction.
At last the auction wound down to the final item. The Darwin Bible was unlocked from its case and carried like a religious relic to an easel that stood under a special halogen spot. It was an unimpressive tome: flaking black leather, tattered and stained, not even any lettering. It could be any old journal.
Fiona sat straighter. Plainly this was what had kept her in her seat this entire time. She grabbed Gray's wrist. "Are you really going to bid on it?" she asked, hope dawning in her bright eyes.
Gray frowned at her—then realized it wasn't a half-bad idea. If the others were willing to kill over it, maybe some clue to the entire house of cards could be discerned from it. Besides, he was aching to get a peek at it. And Sigma Force had poured 250,000 euros into the account here at the auction house. That meant he could bid up to 2.5 million. That was twice the maximum estimate for the Bible. If he won, he'd be able to inspect his purchase.
Still, he remembered Logan Gregory's admonishment. He had already disobeyed orders to follow Fiona here. He dared not involve himself even more intimately.
He felt Fiona's eyes on him.
If he started bidding, it would put their lives in danger, painting a bull's-eye on both of them. And what if he lost the bid? The risk would be for nothing. Hadn't he been foolhardy enough today?
"Ladies and gentlemen, how much to start the bidding on today's last lot?" Ergenschein said grandly. "Shall we open with one hundred thousand? Ah, yes, we have one hundred thousand…and from a new bidder. How wonderful. Number 144."
Gray lowered his paddle, all eyes on him, committed now.
Beside him, Fiona smiled widely.
"And we double the bid," Ergenschein said. "Two hundred thousand from number 002!"
The silent-movie stars.
Gray felt the room's focus shift back to him, including the pair in front. Too late to back down. He raised his paddle again.
The bidding continued for another ten tense minutes. The auction room remained full. Everyone was staying behind to see what the Darwin Bible would fetch. There was an undercurrent of support for Gray. Too many others had been outpaddled by number 002. And as the figure crossed the two million mark, well above the maximum estimate, murmurs of hushed excitement burbled around the room.
There was another flash of excitement when a phone bidder jumped into the fray, but number 002 outbid him, and he didn't counter.
Gray did. Two mill three. Gray's palms began to sweat.
"Two million four from number 002! Gentlemen and ladies, please keep your seats."
Gray raised his paddle one more time.
"Two million five."
Gray knew he was sunk. He could do nothing but watch as 002 rose again, unstoppable, relentless, merciless.
"Three million," the pale young gentleman said, tiring of the game. He stood and glanced back at Gray, as if daring him to challenge that.
Gray had reached his limit. Even if he wanted, he couldn't bet more. His hand ground on his paddle. Gray shook his head, admitting defeat.
The other bowed toward him, one adversary to another. The man tipped an imaginary hat. Gray noted a blue blemish on the fellow's right hand, at the webbing between thumb and forefinger. A tattoo. His companion, who by now Gray realized must be the young man's sister, perhaps even twin, bore the same mark on her left.
Gray fixed the tattoo in his mind's eye, perhaps a clue to their identity.
His attention was interrupted by the auctioneer.
"And it appears number 144 is finished!" Ergenschein said. "Any more bids. Once, twice, thrice." He raised the gavel, held it for a breathless moment, then tapped it on the edge of the podium. "Done!"